After a violent opening sequence, the film lulls you into a lot of quiet, sweet moments. Patrick Wilson copes with his sprained ankle while his wife tries to cheer him up with humor and sex. Kurt Russel acts pig-headed while his long-suffering wife ribs him. Matthew Fox deliberates on the unfair rate of paying more for three songs together instead of three separate songs in the bar. It’s all in all a nice little town.
And then some cannibal Native Americans kidnap Patrick Wilson’s funny, sexy wife and the men go on a mission to get her back. But far from a thrilling chase, most of the film is a slow, tedious journey through the rugged land of the Wild West. The earth is just as much of an antagonist as the cannibals, perhaps even more as the earth is indifferent to bullets.
A lot of time is spent in camp. Banter becomes a way to stave off the boredom, or rather to distract Patrick Wilson’s character from the pain and the worry of his wife in the hands of cannibals. Matthew Fox’s highfalutin diatribes plays perfectly against Kurt Russell’s no-nonsense mindset. Richard Jenkins has a penchant for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time even though he means well. And Patrick Wilson spends a lot of time saying things to convince himself of them more than others.
Then the final act comes and everything goes bonkers. The Western genre tropes are abandoned, the violence escalates, and things get super creepy super fast. It’s one of the most memorable and crazy final acts in recent years.
I’d like to talk about the violence for a minute because it’s so fantastic here. Westerns have a tenancy to sanitize violence. One need look no further than The Magnificent Seven to see how glitzy and glamorous violence is in the genre. In contrast, here violence has a heft and grit to it that makes it feel weighty and sudden. It’s jarring and disturbing instead of exciting and entertaining. Here, the film twists the knife of violence, makes it painful and upsetting. There’s nothing beautiful or adventurous about violence. The whole damn thing is horrific.
© 2016 James Blake Ewing